Pregnancy an Birth: Creation and Incarnation (Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20)

Luke’s gospel chapter 1 is about pregnancies: 1) the pregnancy of Elizabeth in her old age, who carries in her womb the future John the Baptist. 2) the pregnancy of young 13 old Miriam, who carries Jesus in her womb.
I would like to share some reflections this evening: My first is that pregnancy results in birth and life. All women reflect a deep mystery of Creation in pregnancy. I am actually speaking about gestation in the womb and do recognize that it usually takes a male and female to bring about pregnancy. Now I am speaking as a male, and I think a mother who could describe pregnancy better than myself from first-hand experience.

For me, creation is a stunningly amazing act of God’s generativity that is directed towards life. Years ago, I read a German theologian who wrote about creation. He imagines before the Big Bang, all space in the universe and beyond was God’s space; it was filled by God alone. Just before the Big Bang, God withdrew from God’s space to make room for creation. God creates by letting be, by making room, and by withdrawing God’s self to allow the infinite space of matter expanding into galaxies and beyond. This has been traditionally interpreted as God creating the universe from nothing. But this is more richly understood as maternal gestation in preparation of the birth of the universe. Like pregnancy, God’s womb is an act of hospitality, a welcoming into being. Several feminist theologians have strongly suggested this is analogous to pregnancy:

And it is clearly the parent as mother that is the stronger candidate for an understanding of creation as bodied forth from divine being, for it is imagery of gestation, giving birth, and lactation that creates an imaginative picture of creation as profoundly dependent on and cared for by divine life. There simply no other imagery available to us that has power for expressing the interdependence and interrelatedness of all life with is ground. All of us, female and male, have the womb as our first home, all of us born from the bodies of our mothers, all of us are fed by our mothers. (McFague)

All life-giving activities result in birthing. Women during their gestation period reflect God’s creative process of making room in God’s self for the birth of creation. This metaphor portrays how we live in the womb of God’s universe that has given life to us and an infinite multitude of life. As we born into the universe, perhaps the Holy Spirit might be understood as the umbilical cord that continues to link us to our divine parent. This means creation is till in the womb becoming what God intended.

Let me shift to Mary’s pregnancy. Mary becomes pregnant without Joseph as father. Being pregnant without a finalized marriage left Mary and Joseph in a socially awkward and religious predicament. The gospel of Matthew pictures the dilemma that imposes upon Joseph a difficult decision whether to divorce the pregnant Mary, denounce her, or finalize the marriage until God came to him in a dream and revealed that this was God’s birthing a child. English author Nick Page writes, “The story of Jesus’ birth is not one of exclusion, but inclusion…Joseph’s relatives made a place for Jesus in their heart of their household. They did not shun Mary, even though her status would have been suspect and even shameful (carrying an illegitimate child) they brought her inside. They made room for Jesus in the heart of a peasant’s home.” Joseph and his family made room for pregnant and unwed Mary in their family. Making room or hospitality is really inclusion; it reflects the reality of God creating the universe and us. God is about radical inclusive love, making space within God’s self for creation and birthing life. This making room is manifested in Joseph’s inclusion of Mary and Jesus into his own family. Hospitality is a sort welcoming into the womb of the house and family, for it is what church is.

Mary travels with Joseph to Bethlehem. The physical ordeal of riding on a donkey during pregnancy for several days is hard for me as a male to physically comprehend, and I suspect that the ride to Bethlehem induces labor pains and the birth of Jesus. The couple cannot find any room in Bethlehem and search out shelter in a canvasserie (cave-like shelter for travelers) that house domestic animals outside of Bethlehem.

“Is there room in our inn (or church) for Jesus?” In this time of fear, undocumented folks in the US fear that there is no room for themselves in our country. They remain publicly unwelcomed. Many folks of good faith are asking themselves: “How can we — and our world, our state, our church — make room for the politically unwelcomed who are undocumented?” A 83 year old Jewish atheist whom I met at a wedding that I officiated here, asked me, “how can I make my house a sanctuary.” Another non-Christian friend has told me that he has a secret underground room with electricity and water and that he plans to hide undocumented folks threatened with deportation. These and others realize that hospitality, making room for those at risk and emotionally traumatized by the political election, has become too real in reflecting the story of the birth of Jesus and the later need to flee as refugees from Bethlehem as Herod seeks out to kill Jesus and his family.

Now Mary gives birth to Jesus and lays him in a manger, a feeding trough. The feeding trough is the least of all social places to lay a newly born infant. But the Christ child shares space with domesticated animals. We often take that as poetic convention that adds a warm familiarity or sentimentality to our Nativity crèches. The manger reminds that non-human animals are considered by humans as lower than the least human and just barely above slavery, a prominent institution of burden and oppression that kept the Roman Empire working. But I take the birth of God’s incarnate child in the canvasserie with non-human life and laid in a manger a evelation: it points out that we human animals share space with non-human animals from God’s perspective. Listing the creatures together, which occurs frequently in Hebrew scriptures, suggests the importance and the belovedness that God has for non-human animals. “God so loved the world that God sent God’s only begotten child….” (Jn. 3:16) The manger reminds that God is not born just for humanity, but for all non-human life and the Earth. God became flesh dependent on the eco-systems for nourishment and protection. Christ’s birth calls us to recommit to protect the Earth and all life: the trees and life in the rainforest, the whales, the oceans and the lands. These share earthliness as the new Adam, the divine earth-creature is born.

The marginal location of the birth of Jesus makes it accessible to the marginalized shepherds outside of the town of Bethlehem. Angels appear to the shepherds, announcing “Today in the city of David, is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds are told to search for a sign—a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This, of course, is an unusual sign for a Savior and Lord, born in a cave with non-human animals. And in Luke, shepherds, outsiders and despised Jews, came to venerate him in a feeding trough as Savior and God’s Child. They did not leave their flocks behind but brought them along. The shepherds too found inspiration and hope for then and the future, for an innocent child in a feeding trough illuminated by a star and the arrival of expectant shepherds who experience wonder. This child born in a cave is good news for marginalized and despised shepherds, but this good news for all who are poor and oppressed. And the shepherds returned praising God for what they had experienced.

One of the strong and clear messages from the Nativity of Jesus is that we Christians cannot truly love the infant Jesus without loving nature, other life, and the marginalized. But there are some important words that we often overlook: “Mary treasured these words and pondered them in her heart.” Treasuring the words of the shepherds and their coming to see the birth of her child and pondering this in her heart are important part of the Christmas story. We are called to treasure this story and ponder its meaning for ourselves.

Treasuring and pondering are the essential skills for meditatively comprehending God’s incarnation. Mary gives an example of how to become pregnant with the living Christ and birth Christ into the world. Christ becomes a part of our fleshly and metaphoric wombs, and that means men as well as women. By saying “yes” to God’s offer of grace and unconditional love to the Angel Gabriel, Mary becomes pregnant with the divine Word, the Christ. Through faith, Mary comes to ponder and keeping in heart the finding Jesus in the Temple, his ministry and death on the cross, and his resurrection. By paying attention to the gospel story tonight and other gospel stories, we carry mindfully the incarnation of God’s compassion in the world within ourselves.

We are called in this story to pay attention to God’s enfleshment as a newborn baby. The birth of any baby elicits an emotional response for care. This becomes ironic for us. We are called to care for the well-being and nourishment in the infant in the manger. Our invitation to use our instinctual desire to care for the well-being of the God become child. Heart and mind become mindfully focused on this child before us tonight, everything else in our lives becomes secondary to paying attention and caring for the Christ child. This same attention of heart and mind to the infant Christ becomes an invitation to pay as close attention to the poor and suffering in the world, human and non-human life and the Earth herself.

One author writes,

On Christmas Day, we are invited to the humble place where God is new and needing. We are to practice thinking and caring for what is not me, or even us, to rethink how we are in the world, how our doing affects the welfare of a world inhabited by God who at this moment needs for us to pay attention (like Mary) and out of that that attention to create the conditions of health and security at the manager (which is everything in the world). (Kristin Swenson)

My colleague and clergy friend, Tom Bohache, writes something complementary:
…incarnation is an acceptance that we bear Christ within us—the part of God that is instilled in us to bring forth from ourselves the offspring of Christ-ness: self-empowerment, creativity, awareness of creation, joy, love, peace and justice-making to name a few.

Tom Bohache acknowledges when we follow Mary’s example of treasuring the moment and keeping it ever mindful, the mystery of the Nativity lives on in us—we become pregnant with Christ and we too give birth to Christ.

…the Nativity is the realization that Christ will be born, no matter what the circumstances. No matter how hard it is, no matter how perilous the journey, no matter that folks might not receive us, once we agreed to give birth to Christ; most will go about their business and oppressing others. Some, like King Herod, …will seek to destroy what we have birthed; they will seek to take our Christ presence away from us.

God’s blending of the human and the divine in the birth of Christ is God’s greatest work, Christ is the blueprint of what is happening to us tonight. The reality is that during Advent the gestation of Christ within ourselves leads to Christ’s birth in us. The scandal of God’s birth in human flesh is that it is not once and for all; it is promiscuous. It happens hundreds of millions, if not billions of time, that God is born in us. We become Christ living in the world, manifesting God’s forgiveness, love, peace, compassion. We are infused with Christ, thus like Christ we become God’s eyes; God’s arms and legs, we become God’s compassionate incarnation. That is truly a radical mystery because God is willing to be ultimately inclusive by emptying God’s self in a network of humanity, all life, and creation alive. Creation and Christ’s incarnation continues to happen, and there is no stopping this flow of radical inclusive love. Love conquers not only death but all obstacles to life-giving and birthing the abundant, unconquerable compassion of God in creation, in the reality that we know. Merry Christmas, for you have birthed tonight as the Christ child. And we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on the lowest margins of the Earth…”

The Tree of Jesse: Isaiah 11:1-10

Come Promised One!
Do not smile and say
you are already with us.
Millions do not know you
and to us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point
of your presence
if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives, shatter
our complacency.
Make your word
flesh of our flesh,
blood of our blood
and our life’s purpose.
Take away the quietness
of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus
that other peace is made,
your peace.
-Dom Helder Camara

This second Sunday of Advent reminds us that we are waiting with anticipation for the fulfillment of this vision of Jesus leading us to the peaceful reign of God, where God lives among us in peaceful harmony. Martin Luther King Jr. claimed, “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends Toward Justice.” For those dismayed with the election results and their consequences, we need to hold in faith the statement Martin Luther King Jr. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the “stump of Jesse.” The stump of Jesse offers us hope, peace, and the regeneration of spiritual vision that God is presence and God is Emmanuel.

I remember in Catholic school we had a Jesse tree for Advent. Jesse trees are an old Advent custom, dating back to the European Middle Ages. They were used to tell the biblical stories from Creation to Christmas. There were twenty-five stories from the Bible told and ending with Luke’s story of Jesus born in a cave and laid in a manger.In a time when literacy was low, the Jesse tree was an educational opportunity to relive the biblical events leading to the birth of Christ. But the Jesse tree was used to speak about the genealogy of Jesus from Jesse the father of the great King David in the Hebrew scriptures to Jesus his descendant.

Now picture what a stump looks like. It is a tree chopped down to a stump, and most view this as an eyesore. I had one in my yard in St. Louis. It was 30” diameter, and it took a year to chop this hard wood and getting to the rot. There were no ragged branches growing out of the stump. It was about 2 feet off the ground and quite dead. If there were branches, I would have let them grow because it was a wonderful old maple tree. New life from a stump is a wonderful sign of rejuvenated life. It gives us hope.

Isaiah is a story teller, a prophet– whose purpose to speak forth God’s truth to the present generation. Christians from the first generation on, have understood this truth of the Jesse stump from the prophet Isaiah as a fore- telling of the coming of Jesus and how God’s reign will continue to be made visible and tangible among us. The prophet Isaiah offers a vision of God’s presence through chosen people to “a new David,” who will lead us and all life and all creation to a place where we co-live in peace with ourselves, other life, and the Earth as well.
Stumps on the ground are often able to regenerate into new trees, sprouting new growth and branches. A stump sprouts can grow very quickly and sometimes become viable trees themselves due to the existing life and vitality in its roots. Life regenerates from the stump. Likewise, Isaiah provides a vision of the coming messiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The time of the prophet Isaiah was a perilous time. Israel was divided into kingdom, Northern Israel and Judea. And both were threatened by the superpowers at time—Egypt and Assyria. Assyria would conquer Northern Israel and transports it aristocracy into exile, and Assyria would lay siege to Jerusalem and fail. In other words, Israel’s enemies had tried every way to seal off the stump of Jesse that was the root of the throne of David and had taken the Israelite elite into exile. Jesus’ ancestors suffered all this and more. And yet, somehow, there was still life still stirring in this old stump. Jesse was the stump, the father of epic colorful King David of the Hebrew scriptures, but Jesse was the son of a colorful, non-traditional family. His grandmother was Ruth, a woman from the country of Moab and not a Hebrew, and she was bonded to Naomi. Jesse’s grandmothers were Ruth and Naomi. Ruth lost her husband, the son of Naomi, and followed Naomi from Moab to Israel with these words:

Do not press me to leave you or turn back from following you. Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, there I will be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me if even death parts me from you.

Women who loved women have often used this scripture for their holy unions. But let me tell the story of Ruth a bit further. Ruth accompanies Naomi back to Israel, and Naomi instructs Ruth to pick up the left over grain in the fields of her relative Boaz. Boaz notices her. And Naomi instructs her to go to Boaz at night and uncover his feet in bed, and she does so and becomes pregnant.
At the end of the Book of Ruth, the women come to Naomi, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed, who became the father of Jesse who was the father of David, a shepherd boy that became a leader. Some LGBT Jews and Christians understand this as an alternative, bisexual family. These are the marginal ancestors of Jesus.

When you think about it, it is an odd image to use to describe Jesus. He’s the new King of Israel, and he is described as a fragile branch growing out of an unsightly old stump. Not a very triumphant or powerful image. But that’s what Advent is all about. It is about coming to terms with the profound knowledge that God choses to become human and vulnerable, a defenseless human baby, dependent upon parents to survive. His parents would be unable to find shelter except in a cave with domesticated animals, and he was placed after his birth in a wooden manger.

Neither a baby nor a small branch growing out of stump is going to last long in a hostile world. The little shoot branching out of the stump could be cut down at any moment. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew tells how King Herod tries to cut down that branch and brutally kills all innocent male infants in Bethlehem from age two and under. The political world of power, greed, and intolerance cannot accept the possibility of a peacemaker. Religious and political empires, led by Herod or represented by Caiaphas and Pilate, would later join forces to crucify this child of peace—who threatened the very fabric of oppression and violent power.

God risks vulnerability in the branch of the tree of Jesse, a little child. What is true about branches growing on trees is that they branch out right on the edge of the trees. New growth is produced right at the very outward edges of the tree, and it builds outward, fragile branches and leaves. The human birth of the incarnate one was born out of a tree which had been chopped down to a stump, and God chose to bring new shoots out of the stump.

It is ironically that Jesus was adopted by Joseph a carpenter and wood artisan, and that Jesus would also become a carpenter in his years. The Jesse tree buds into new life as Savior and Messiah, but the lineage and theme of trees continue in the life of Jesus.

That new shoot of the Jesse tree, Jesus, is chopped down again and hung on the cross. In Greek Orthodox icons of the crucifixion of Jesus, there is a scull at the foot of the cross. Greek Orthodox uses the scull at the foot of the cross to mark the location on the Golgotha where Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove, Jesus was betrayed to the Temple guards, and on Golgotha, once a garden grove of trees, Jesus was crucified on the dead wood of the cross. Even with God’s presence in Christ things never went without obstacles and challenges. But God brang resurrected life out of the stump of the cross. Jesus becomes the new Tree of Life on Easter morning.

Symbolically, the lineage of trees from the Jesse tree expands in communities of trees down the age to the risen Jesus, the Tree of Life. I now cannot look at a tree or a community or forest of trees without seeing the Jesus the Tree of Life is rooted in all trees. The incarnate one is rooted into the Earth and the community of Earth life. The incarnate God has roots in the Earth.

Our God is totally green vitality, and great medieval abbess and saint, Hildegaard of Bingen, called this vitality of life that is God—viriditas, the greening vitality. Our God resurrects and sprouts new green life when the forces of violence and power try to deforest the world of hope and peace or when they chop down the giving tree. Branches continue to sprout, small at first but grow into a strong tree. Or when they take God incarnate, the Christ, and nail him to dead wood, God’s presence brings resurrect life in the risen Christ.

There is another parable about the Tree of Jesse. Harper & Row published a children’s book in 1964—The Giving Tree, a story by author Shel Silverstein. I used the story narrated on youtube several years ago. The book is about an apple tree and a young boy who have a connection with one another. In childhood, the boy plays with the tree, climbing the tree, swinging on branches, and eating apples. I could identify with the boy and the apple tree. In adolescence, the boy wants money, and the tree offers her apples to sell. In adulthood, the adult now wants a house, and the tree offers her branches to build his house. In middle age, the man wants a boat, and the tree offers her trunk to be cut—leaving a stump. In the final years, the elderly man just want a quiet place to sit, and the tree provides her stump as a seat. She is happy in total giving to her beloved.

There is no question for me: Jesus, God’s Christ is the authentic giving tree. He gives and gives abundant life and grace to us. Like the giving tree, Christ continues to give to humanity love and compassion. Christ—Abba God and the Holy Spirit—continually offers divine life to us. So I want you think about Christmas trees, but don’t stop with Christmas but all trees as symbolizing the giving tree of Christ.

We look to Christ’s arrival again to bring the fullness of God’s peace. On this Second Sunday of Advent that anticipates peace, we that the Spirit of Christ is hovering over us and looking for fertile ground from which to grow up a new branch out of the old stump. Isaiah proclaims,

On that day, the branch of Jesse, shall stand as a signal to the peoples…

What are the edges of your life that you need to pay mindful attention to start growing in Christ’s peace? What are the parts of you that feel unfinished and vulnerable, that you are afraid to let out into the light? I confess that I worry for our Earth and all life with the election.

Today’s scripture and sermon expresses that the moral arc of the universe—God’s presence—will be long and bend toward justice and love. Look at every tree today and see the Tree of Life that triumphs over the Roman and religious empire that crucified Jesus.

I look at the election and the President-elect. Every appointee, has been racist, climate deniers, and definitely anti-LGBT. I worry over the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the Water Protectors. And I student asked me this week if the Water Protectors will prevail, and I said, ‘I don’t think so. Trump has investments in the Dakota pipeline.”  But this morning some 2100 veterans arrived at Standing Rock to stand with the Water Protectors non-violently. Several weeks ago 500 clergy from a number of denominations, including the UCC and the UCC Environmental MInister Rev. Borrks Berndt, stood with the Water Protectors. (At lunch,I read on CNN that the Army Coprs of Engineers denied the Dakota  Oil Company a permit to cross the Sioux reservation. The Spirit works with surprises.)

And I fear for the undoing of the Paris Climate agreement and the EPA, protections against global warming. These are big challenges to us emotionally, but we need to hold with faith that Christ is the trunk of the Tree of Life, and you grow as living branches of the giving Tree. The true giving Tree will trump all greed, all hatred and racism, and environmental obstruction. The moral arc of the universe will triumph in favor of life, but there may be costs on the way. Have faith this Advent, Alleluia!

God is Green: An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion

New Title From Robert E. Shore-Goss
God is Green
An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion

At this time of climate crisis, here is a practical Christian ecospirituality. It emerges from the pastoral and theological experience of Reverend Robert Shore-Goss, who worked with his congregation by making the earth a member of the church, by greening worship, and by helping the church building and operations attain a carbon neutral footprint.

Shore-Goss explores an ecospirituality grounded in incarnational compassion. Practicing incarnational compassion means following the lived praxis of Jesus and the commission of the risen Christ as Gardener. Jesus becomes the “green face of God.” Restrictive Christian spiritualities that exclude the earth as an original blessing of God must expand. This expansion leads to the realization that the incarnation of Christ has deep roots in the earth and the fleshly or biological tissue of life.

This book aims to foster ecological conversation in churches and outlines the following practices for congregations: meditating on nature, inviting sermons on green topics, covenanting with the earth, and retrieving the natural elements of the sacraments. These practices help us recover ourselves as fleshly members of the earth and the network of life. If we fall in love with God’s creation, says Shore-Goss, we will fight against climate change.

Robert E. Shore-Goss has been Senior Pastor and Theologian of MCC United Church of Christ in the Valley (North Hollywood, California) since June 2004. He has made his church a green church with a carbon neutral footprint. The church received a Green Oscar from California Interfaith Power & Light. Shore-Goss’s website, which includes a publication list, can be found at www.mischievousspiritandtheology.com/.

Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because I showed Al Gore’s documentary, Inconvenient Truth, at church. And we began a process of reflecting on our responsibilities to care for the Earth, and we made the earth a member of the church to indicate our pastoral responsibilities to care for the Earth and all life. We started a process of greening our lives and the church over a decade with reducing our energy usage, installing solar panels, retrofitting church toilets and urinals to save some 4,000 gallons of water per year in a drought in Southern California, and harvesting rain and condensation from our air conditioning, and creating an urban garden. We attained a carbon neutral footprint as a church after a decade of commitment to Earthcare.

When I watched ABC’s graphic novel, Earth 2100 (now on youtube), I was so dismayed by the future ravages of the Earth and the community of life. My grandniece was born, I had to do more for her and for my university students. They deserved to live in a world not trashed by humanity.

As I started writing the book, I was afflicted with a blood disorder. My blood production plummeted and hemoglobin was 6 with normal being 14. I received blood transfusions every two weeks to stay alive. After five months, I was placed on daily large oral dosages of chemo-therapy, I had suffered cognitive impairment and attempted to write the book, I wasn’t sure that I would live to finish the book without a bone marrow transplant, and there was only a 50% possibility of a match with my two sibling sisters. But after a year, the chemo-therapy worked and began to restore my blood production in the bone marrow, I finished the book. At one point, I approached a colleague about finishing the book if I died. The issue is the most serious crisis that humanity and the Earth faces.

What do you hope from this book?
I began speaking to churches, conferences, facilitated workshops, incorporated climate change and religion into courses taught at university, and groups on climate change and the need to respond. I found resistance and denial of climate change at all levels of society.

I want to change hearts of Christians and people who do not identify with a religion and millennials but consider themselves as spiritual. I want to harness the energy of religious folks, the disaffiliated but spiritual folks, in a greening movement that cares enough to encounter nature and discover the presence of the risen Christ and the Spirit. I found so many students who practiced some form of mindfulness in their encounters with nature, read conservationists who already paid attention to the natural world and fell in love with nature, and environmentalists who actively fought for various environmental issues and sought out meditation centers to deepen their connections to nature. I have practiced Christian and Buddhist meditation/contemplative practices and rituals to find God whether in the church garden, deserts, the redwood forest of Russian River, or in the dog park with my companion dog. I realized that if Christians were to commit to environmental justice, they first need to fall in love with nature if they were to change their lifestyles to co-live with Earth and the web of life. For five hundred years, Christianity had maintained there were two sources of revelation: The Bible and the Bible of Nature. (I also believe that revelation is found in the scriptures and traditions of the world religions).

I hope to assist in the eco-conversion of Christians. God is Green attempts to highlight sources and ritual media for attaining such a conversion on an individual and communal level.
Who are trying to reach?
There are estimates that there is between one to two million organizations globally committed to environmental care and fighting the ravages of climate change. I want to reach Christians and help them to green their communities. If they become spiritually connected to the incarnate Christ whose roots extend into the cosmological processes and the very tissue of biological life, they understand the Earth-centeredness of God’s incarnation.

I grew up as a religious activist during the Vietnam War. I was inspired the Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan, the Christian war resisters and pacifists. We fought the immorality of the war and eventually forced the government to abandon the war. Now I want to harness the energies of progressive and conservative Christians to fight against climate change. We all can find a common cause because we all love our children, grandchildren, and our nieces and nephews. They will inherit a world full of climate change, the death of all life in the oceans, droughts, water and food shortages. Here watch this youtube I used for a sermon on the Earth. Watch Prince Ea’s video, “Dear Future Generations, Sorry.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M

What are you asking Christians to do?
I am asking them to first connect with God’s Earth and all life in a non-anthropocentric fashion. Anthropocentrism is about the religious viewpoint that creation was for the purpose of humanity. Human beings are above all created things. All life is at the disposal of human beings, to serve as property and under their control. We are exceptional and above all things. This translates into exploitative and reckless attitudes of using the Earth as our warehouse for whatever are needs and no matter what harm is committed against other species. It is about our self-centeredness.

Eco-conversion is the realization that humanity is part of the community of the Earth. As St. Francis of Assisi understood, all life and the Earth are kin. He envisioned a democratic of biotic life. Science and the deepest religious insights understands that everything is interconnected to everything us. Individualism, setting us apart from nature, is an allusion. Eco-conversion is turning away from human self-centeredness to understanding ourselves as part of a network of life, and that everything is interrelated.

Once we let go of ego-centeredness and view ourselves an interdependent with the Earth and the web of life, we become a part of that interdependent network. It opens us a new relational understanding with the natural world and that God interrelated with the Earth and all life. Eco-conversion is viewing all life as God views life.

I am asking Christians to develop an “ecological literacy” as eco-theologian Sallie McFague invites us to live responsibly with the house rules of the Earth: “1) Take only your share; 2) Clean up after yourselves, 3) Keep the Earth in good repair for those who will use it later.”

Finally, many environmental activists and professors in Earth studies are despairing over the prognosis for the future this century. Maybe one of the gifts that we might share with them is hope.

How do you intend to work for Earthcare and environmental justice?
Matthew Fox in his book The Cosmic Christ, says, “…the killing of Mother Earth in our time is the number one ethical, spiritual, and human issue of our planet.” I accept this as I witness it in climate change and human greed and reckless exploitation of the Earth. All social justice issues are also interrelated to ecojustice.

I believe that we can build bridges between conservative and progressive Christians to fight for life and for the Earth. When I presented a workshop at the Parliament of World Religions (2016): “How Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists Can Speak Together about Climate Change?” The workshop was well received. At the end, I gave thanks to God and walked out of the room where Tibetan Buddhist monks were creating a sand mandala for the welfare of the Earth and all life. There were indigenous peoples as well as representatives and organizations of the world’s religions there. All compassionately caring for the Earth and committed to fight climate change.

In this book, I join my voice to the saints of the Earth: conservationists, environmental activists martyred in the Amazon, theologians, and people of all faith communities fighting to preserve this wonderful creation.

I intend to add my voice as a “green prophet,” coaxing, inviting, and pushing faith communities to consider Earthcare. I have designed an online course for “Greening Your Faith Community,” for training religious communities how to green themselves and their spiritualities. I have participated in interfaith panels, facilitated workshops, taught in the classroom university students, and lectured on climate change and a spirituality to deal with climate change.

Is it too late to stop climate change?
This is the most difficult question to answer. Climate change is taking place. From what scientists are saying, the rising of the Earth’s atmosphere by 4 degrees Celsus or more will result in a catastrophe for life on the planet. I expect that I will be dead before the worst consequences will happen. Yes, we have moved beyond the tipping point, but my hope is that if we create ecological communities of faith and organizations committed to fight for life, we can form a global network “an Alliance of Life” as E. O Wilson, Harvard Professor Emeritus in Biology, has called. He has issued a call for religion and science, two powerful forces on the planet, to join together to save life.

I believe that if we act now, we can lessen the temperature rise. So this book is one of many calls that the Spirit has issued across the planet.

Will you follow up this book?
Eco-theologian Mark Wallace describes Jesus as “the Green face of God.” I want to deepen the exploration of the ecology off Jesus that I began in God is Green. There are some untapped themes in Jesus’ theology and praxis of the Companionship of Empowerment and the notion of the risen Christ as Gardener for Christian eco-praxis of compassionate action in the world.

As we mindfully engage nature, we meet God. We intuit a connectedness with everything, and we no longer experience separateness as individuals, for at the heart of the universe, nothing exists in itself but exists interrelated to something else and through the infinite reaches of the universe. Prayer and contemplation allows us to enter the heart of the universe and experience the Spirit, the incarnated Christ and Creator interrelated within nature. This book attempts to spark “an environmental imaginary” of liberative eco-spirituality that re-contextualizes and re-envisions the sources of Christianity as interrelated with the Earth and the web of life. My ecological imaginary has re-shaped my spirituality by expanding my prayer to become an eco-contemplative in compassion for the Earth. I am part of the Earth and interelated community of life.

The greening of our Christian imaginations deepens our relationship with God, the risen Christ as Gardner, and provides the foundation of Christian ecological practice. There are many Christians and churches turning to Earthcare in the form of ecojustice movements and committed to Earthcare My hope is to awaken our Christian awareness of our injuring the Earth and our failure to hear God voice, saying “These are my beloved children.” The late Thomas Berry called for an “ecologically sensitive spirituality.” Berry devoted much of life’s work, writings, and mentoring scholars, Christians, and non-Christians to promote a “life-enhancing” spiritualities with “wonder-filled intimacy with the planet.” Brian Swimme writes,

The great mystery is that we are intersted in anything whatsover. Think of your friends, how you met them, how interresting they appeared to you. Why should anyone in the whole world interest us at all? Why don’t we experience everyone as utter, unendurable bores? Why isn’t the cosmos made that way? Why don’t we suffer intolerable burden with every person, forest, symphony, and sea-shore in exitence? The great surprise is that something or someone is interesting. Love begins there. Love begins when we discover interst. To be interested is to fall in love. To become fascinated is to step into a wild love affair on any level of life.

If we fall in love with God’s Earth, then we will fight to preserve what God loves and we love.

Endorsements:

“If I had to recommend a single recently published text as a must-read for a course on Christianity and ecology, especially climate change, it would be Robert Shore-Goss’s wide-ranging and clearly written God Is Green: An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion. Not only does he include almost all important books from his preferred ‘kenotic theology,’ to rituals for embodiment and practice, but he also delivers a one-volume analysis and critique of the ‘field.’ We are all in his debt for a useful and passionate call for a theological ‘conversion’ with accompanying radical action to help save our planet.”
—Sallie McFague, Professor of Theology Emerita, Vanderbilt University Divinity School; Distinguished Theologian in Residence, the Vancouver School of Theology, British Columbia; author of Blessed Are the Consumers

“Robert Shore-Goss has written a beautiful meditative overview of greening in Christianity. [It is] not simply a fact-following-fact landscape but a weaving of the reader and author as participants in contemporary Christian ecological locations. Like a Compostela pilgrimage, the journey of reading here is challenging, communal, and playful all the way.”
—John Grim, Codirector, Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale

“The Reverend Dr. Shore-Goss has pulled together a much-needed and beautifully compiled message for Christians on ecological theology. God is Green will give the reader a true understanding of what the human role and relationship is with Earth. He points out Jesus’ call for protection and love for Creation. This is a direct and honest look at God’s intention for the human purpose supported by many theologians and including Francis of Assisi. He argues that we are the gardeners.”
—Sally G. Bingham, President, The Regeneration Project, Interfaith Power & Light

“An author known for his queer theology expands his horizons to find what spirituality can do to entice people of faith to free the Earth. God Is Green traces the roots of human contact with the sacred all the way to our mythological roots from the soil, and fashioned by God’s all-purposing hands, we embody the sacred’s commitment to a life connected with all living things. Ignoring this rootedness, this connectedness, is a dangerous game played by industrial cultures. Robert calls us all back to the Earth and our interrelatedness to all living things as essential to a healthy, whole, and full life.”
—John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ

“There is a way of pushing the needed panic button with mere panic, and there is a way of pushing it with wisdom, scholarship, and compassion. We are blessed to have an excellent example of the latter here! Robert Shore-Goss is not preaching to the choir here but to anyone with a head, concern for the future, and even a bit of soul!”
—Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Season of Creation: Oceans

I am divided this morning. Do I speak about our deep connection to the Earth’s oceans or do I address the beginnings of an oceanic apocalypse? I will speak to both, and with God’s grace, may I do justice our interconnectedness with our oceans and all life and the challenges to those oceans and to ourselves in the very near future.

The oceans originated as the planet cooled down, releasing steam that became the oceans of the earth. But there was another source of waters of the oceans as thousands of comets, made of ice struck the Earth, adding to the oceans’ water. I marvel as we are part of the Earth’s story, the formation of oceans and 2 billion years ago life arising in the oceans. The Season of Creation is an opportunity to celebrate God’s creation, that story, and how we fit into that story. This Sunday we look at the oceans.

Today’s reading is from Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, a Lutheran Pastor and author of Creation Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit. I already read her book before I attended her workshop at the Parliament of World Religions last October. She drafted me as a participant into the reading. Her refrain “I am water, I am waiting…” is so important to realize. It is even haunting. It raises a deep question for me: We are water. What is water waiting for?

We humans have our sense of kinship with water and the oceans. The oceans cover some 70% of our planet. Our bodies carry the markers of our kinship with the oceans. Our bodies are 65-70% water and we have sodium in the waters of our bodies. We enflesh ocean water in our bodies. Our flesh marks our profound kinship with all waters and the oceans, and if we did a genealogical or ancestry tree, we can trace our origins to that very day in the oceans when the first cells became alive.

The oceans are full of mystery, a myriad of life forms and species, and,
of course, beauty. When you were last on the beach, watched the waves come in, and the waters appear to be dynamic and alive with motion and life. People gravitate to the beaches not only because they enjoy the sun and water, but we are drawn there because we have a distant memory ofancestral kinship. We are interconnected.

There is a strong biblical tradition between the Holy Spirit and water, from the creation of water on this planet, to the formation of lakes and rivers, streams, to the water used to baptize Jesus and ourselves, to water we drink and bathe in. Water is a symbol of the Spirit, and the Spirit brings life and healing. Water is the vitality, and the waters of the Earth form the blood of the Earth. The Spirit is involved with life-giving faith (Jn. 1-15), baptisms (Acts 8:26-40, 11:1-18). She is the Spirit in the water flowing from the pierced Jesus’ body on the cross. As fire, there is the story of tongues of fire descending on the disciples in the upper room on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The Spirit sparks the inclusive and multicultural mission of the Jesus movement to the nations.

For theologian Mark Wallace, God’s Spirit has been infusing the universe and the Earth, in particular, since their inception. It is in its Earth-centered mode; the Spirit is cruciform—that is,  She suffers the pain and torment of the Earth and its life: “God as Spirit lives among us in great sorrow and deep anguish. She suffers and groans with creation, and she suffers in her connection to the oceans as we pollute it, trash, create climate change that warms the waters and kills the coral reefs, and as we hunt marine life to extinction.

From the viewpoint of green spirituality, the God who knows death through the cross of Jesus is the crucified God, but God is also the Spirit who enfleshes divine presence in nature and the elements of the universe. God the Spirit the Sustainer of life experience the woundedness of nature, of the oceans, and the suffering of marine life. .

Now let speak me about the spirituality inclusive of the ocean. A wonderful example is Rachel Carson, naturalist and author, and she recounts a formative epiphany in college that drew her to the sea:

Years ago on a night when rain and wind bear against the windows of my college dormitory room, a line from (Tennyson’s) “Locksley Hall’” burned itself into my mind—“For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.” I can still remember my intense emotional response as that line spoke to something within me seeming to tell me that my own path led to the sea—which I have never seen—and that my own destiny was somehow linked with the sea. And so, as you know, it has been.

Carson became a “biographer of the sea,” detailing direct, personal appreciation of individual organisms as well as her love for the Maine seacoast. Paul Brooks writes, “She felt a spiritual as well as a physical closeness to the individual creatures about whom she wrote: a sense of identification that is an essential element in her literary style.” She wrote three books on the seas, sea life and the shores of Maine. She took scientific samples of sea-life near the shore, examined them carefully and tenderly, so that she could release them back into the ocean without any harm. This expresses a profound reverence for life.

She addressed human harm to the oceans some sixty years ago: “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.” (The Sea Around Us)

In the later years of her life, Carson became a public champion for not only the oceans but for all human and non-human life:

In contemplating “the exceeding beauty of the earth” these people have found calmness and courage. For there is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds; in the ebb and flow of the tides; in the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in these repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, with steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water. Perhaps he is intoxicated with his own power, as he goes farther and farther into experiments for the destruction of himself and his world. For this unhappy trend there is no single remedy – no panacea. But I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.

Carson models for us a spirituality of connecting with the natural beauty of the Earth’s oceans. Natural beauty and the experience of wonder was pivotal for spiritual development. When humanity replaced the natural with the artificial, Carson understood that humanity blocked its spiritual growth because we are ocean life that transitioned to the land. Yet we are still connected to the ocean. We human need nature to teach us the wonder of creation, it complexity and beauty.

At communion, after you receiving communion and the blessing, go the water in container in front of the altar. It is salt water, and touch the water and bless your forehead to indicate your connectedness to the oceans and concern for oceans ensouled with God’s Spirit.

The Oceanic Apocalypse:

The former NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, called our attention to climate change in 1988. Some listened to Hansen then, and more recently, he is co-authored a scientific study of the ice melting in Antarctica, yet to undergo review that we will find disturbing. They suggest the seal levels could rise 10 times faster than previously models suggested. It could reach 10 feet by the end of the century, and such cities as New York, Miami, London, Shanghai and Rio de Janiero, and other cities will be submerged. Some island nations will disappear, and many countries will experience massive population dislocation from the seashores on a scale hard to imagine.

Weeks ago we have witnessed massive flooding in Louisiana destroying more 40,000 houses. If we do not cut down the emission from carbon dioxide, methane, and climate warming gases, Hansen and his team share,

We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

This is an apocalypse, in my opinion. Let me first, say we need to vote in November for the Earth, for the oceans, and for life.

Just look not at the rising sea levels but examine what is actually happening within the oceans themselves.

But there are other Earth signs of the health of the oceans: the coral reefs are blanching and dying, the acidification of the oceans.  Scientists discovered the congregation of 35,000 seals on one beach. This indicated the increased loss of artic ice. Melting artic ice and warming oceans jeopardize all plant and marine life, and other connected life. All life in the ocean may become extinct through global warming, over-harvesting of fish, or callous hunting tens of thousands of shark for their fins for shark-fin soup or medicinal properties. The prognosis for continued life in the oceans this century is bleak.

I can’t wrap my spirit around the fact what humanity will be like if the oceans die and all ocean life. The oceans, like the Earth, are alive. The Spirit of God is the sustainer of all life and universe processes that began at the Big Bang to evolve into galactic processes and then planetary processes that produced life in the oceans 2 billion years ago. God’s Spirit ensouled in the waters and early Christians maintained that Christ is in all the waters of the Earth. When we crucify creation, even a part of creation, we are crucifying the Spirit and Christ. We trample upon what is beloved and dear to God. There, I invite you this Season of Creation to re-invigorate your commitment to fight climate change, vote for candidates that support responsible care for the environment, and live with compassion with God’s Earth.

The Wilderness: The Making of God’s Upside-down Kin-dom (Luke 4:1-3)

Today we hear the account from Luke of Jesus’ journey into the wilderness for forty days. Wilderness was the wild place, the waiting place, the place of preparation. It also connected then, as it does now, to very basic spirituality: a place to grapple with God, a place to learn dependence on nature and its provisions, a place of extremes or contrasts, of wild beasts and desert.

Displaced peasants fled into the wilderness from the imperial Roman system that stole their lands for larger plantations. The wilderness was a place of safety as well as to carry out raids against the system. Many had to become bandits to rob from the rich to share what they secured for those impoverished by the system.

Jewish religious revolutionaries sought out the wilderness as a staging platform to fight against the Roman Empire and the Temple authorities. The hopes for liberation lived from the stories of liberation, especially the story of Moses who fled into the wilderness, called by God to return to Egypt to liberate his people.

Pious groups, like the Essenes, created the Qumran community, a priestly and pure settlement in the wilderness, waiting for the messianic drama and climax. Individual religious figures like John the Baptist made the wilderness their starting point where his baptismal ministry would be forged.

Jesus went to the wilderness. He has had a profound experience and revelation of God’s beloved child during his baptism. I suspected that he needed time to process the meaning of the event. In the wilderness, today’s gospel focuses on the temptations that Jesus faced for his future mission. I will talk about those later, but I want to speak on what we usually don’t’ focus: the wilderness.

A number of authors suggest that Jesus learned and accepted his messianic ministry in the wilderness; some of have suggested that he learned his lifestyle there. My observation is that the wilderness presented him with opportunities to learn about the “wild grace” of God, his dependence upon God, and perhaps an itinerant, carefree lifestyle. In a wild habitat, the Spirit is everywhere, and one needs to pay close attention so not to miss the Spirit.

Passionist priest and earth theologian (geologian) Thomas Berry recognizes at the heart of nature there is “a wild component, a creative spontaneity that is in its deepest reality, its most profound mystery.” He comments on the wilderness:

Wilderness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being. It is that wellspring of creativity whence comes the instinctive activities that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young: to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea. This is the same inner tendency that evokes the insight of the poet, the skill of the artist and the power of the shaman. (Berry)

The wild, especially in the wilderness, presents a sense of sacredness. If the natural world reflects the image of God, then the wilderness reflects a wildness of God that we witness in the action of the Holy Spirit as coloring outside boundaries and human categories. Nature is wild, and the Holy Spirit, and we come from the wild—original life from the surging oceans, then our hominid ancestors from the savannahs of Africa. Wilderness is a type of out of bounds or wild gardening by God, and we discover in the wilderness the wildness of God in the uncultivated and disordered wilderness. I believe that Jesus discovered this insight about the wildness of God/

Wendell Berry, American novelist and ecological activist, understands “wilderness as a place” where we must go to be reborn—to receive the awareness, at once humbling and exhilarating, grievous and joyful, that we part of creation, one with all that we live from and all that, in turn, lives from us.

Wendell Berry writes of the three principles of the “kin-dom of God.” I will suggest that Jesus learned these three principles of the kin-dom of God:

The first principle of the Kingdom of God us that it includes everything in it, the fall of every sparrow is a significant event. We are in it whether we know it or not and whether we wish to be or not. Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it, that is to say, the Kingdom is orderly. A third principle is that humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them.

Wendell Berry described the kin-dom of God as, the Great Economy or what Jesus includes in his notion of the companionship of empowerment, for Jesus expressed the economy that God designed in creation. It is a considerate economy found in nature, and all human economies need to fit harmoniously with that companionship ship economy. It is an extension of the Great Economy of companionship of empowerment into the natural world. Berry perceives an ecological and economic sustainability within the words of Jesus. He sees an inclusivity of human and nonhuman animals and nature as part of this kin-dom.

The image of wilderness most characterizes our relationship with the Spirit. Jesus discovered he wildness of the Holy Spirit in the wilderness across the Jordan. And in in the wilderness, he discovered how God sees life so differently from human beings.

The wilderness experience revealed how God colors outside human categories and religious boundaries, for God’s grace is wild, untamed, and disruptive of human exclusions. God’s grace and love were wildly inclusive, beyond human imagination. God’s inclusivity was incarnated in his own flesh and blood, and he sensed that in his intimate moments with God in the wilderness. He intuited a sense of God’s inclusive love for all humans and for all other life. God’s providential care was expressed in God’s love for the lilies of the field, and God’s sustaining the life of the birds of the air and for animals in the wilderness.

For Jesus, God’s empowered companionship denotes community, mutuality, co-creating together through the mobilization of diverse gifts. It includes the virtues of forgiveness, unconditional love, non-violence, compassion, sharing goods, and care for the vulnerable. God’s inclusive love was extended to humanity and nonhuman animals.

The wilderness retreat helped Jesus to distance the option of empire and power games of domination and conquest that he witnessed with Herod Antipas, the co-opted Temple rulers, and the Romans . He affirmed the counter-option of the companionship of empowerment. Let me read quotations of authors that capture what Jesus learned in the wilderness:

There are no more outsiders! Everyone is in—irrespective of their religious state or condition. Radical inclusiveness is a core value in the new companionship. And then comes the bombshell, the queerest twist; the final act of inclusiveness is done by one regarded as a radical outsider, and a hated one. (a Samaritan who shows compassion for Jewish man beaten and left for the dead on the road to Jericho). Diarmuid O’Murchu

Here is the radical act of inclusion envisioned in his retreat in the wilderness. This would significantly impact the style and flavor of his ministry.
The three temptations in Luke’s Gospel are temptations to a style of messiah, exemplified by the rulers of the Temple and the Roman Empire. The Roman emperors were proclaimed as gods and saviors in conquering the world through the force of the Roman legions.

The first test is the temptation for food: He rejects the temptation for his own self-interest and comfort. He will not have a regular place to lay his head to sleep. He will be itinerant and dependent upon Abba God. Jesus will be hungry and dependent upon the gracious gifts of others to receive shared gifts. This temptation is based on false notions of scarcity, for it points to the abundance of shared goods by disciples of the companionship of empowerment. Empire takes food, and its logic is one of scarcity, abundance for the elite and taking away of what is necessary for life of the poor and the peasant. God’s logic is shared abundance for all is celebrated in the new meals, not of scarcity of food or grace but an extravagant abundance of both. Scarcity is the logic of the ruling classes, the 1%. for Jesus, God’s table had to always be open to everyone. Scarcity, privilege, and exclusion were not God’s ways, but abundance, inclusiveness, and compassionate care.

The second temptation is the possession of power and domination: It is the logic of empire, mainly the Roman Empire.

To resist empire—as-such we must know what we are up against. It is something inherent in civilization itself. Non-imperial civilization is something yet to be seen upon earth. John Dominic Crossan

The logic of God’s kin-dom is not imperial domination and ruling, but service of the greatest as the least and the least the greatest. Those who wish to be disciples must choose the lowest position at table, that of a slave, in serving the rest. The first will be last, and the last first. He would tell his disciples, some of them with their notions of power share similarly those notions with the Romans: You are to take the role of the lowest, a slave in service to all. This is the counter-vision that Jesus learned of the upside-down kin-dom in the wilderness. It is humble service over dominating power and coercion of Empire.

The third temptation is to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. It is a temptation to test God. God does not need to be tested but trusted. It is not wonders and miracles that will generate faith, but the great miracle of all, changed lives—the transformation of people, who have become more compassionate, and who are reaching out to outsiders as brothers and sisters in love and care. It is God’s grace that is effective in people’s lives:

The logic of domination, violence, reward, and punishment that prevails in the everyday world is challenged and replaced by a new logic, the logic of grace, compassion, and freedom. Peter Hodgson

Grace is ordinary and unseen, but more effective than the powerful signs.
All three temptations have bearing in shaping Jesus’ ministry of God’s empowered companionship when he returns to society. They were rejected as style of ministry. It chose not the privileged position of religious leaders then and now in many churches. Remember the priest who walked by the man beaten and left for dead on the road of Jericho. Just imagine a high priest, or now a bishop, elder, or moderator who refuse to take up Jesus’ model of humble service, willing to wash the feet of his disciples or serve at table. These temptations were countered by a new vision of service and inclusiveness with forgiveness and compassion.
Jesus would begin his ministry by preaching the good news of the forgiveness of sins without requiring any penance, he would invite the pure and impure to sit at table to eat at God’s table, he would heal on the Sabbath because compassion was greater than the law.
So in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus recites from the scroll of Isaiah:

To preach good news to the poor.
To proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the
blind.
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Jesus preached a new vision of God’s compassion for those who are not included in the vision: God care for the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, and those enslaved through indebtedness. Jesus proclaimed a new freedom of God’s Spirit for a new era. It was the freedom that the Holy Spirit, who is God’s wildness,” and whose wildness was passed into the message, ministry, and person of Jesus.

The Transfiguration (Lk. 9: 28-36)

This story is traditionally read as a miracle story during Jesus’ ministry. But all indications from a careful reading this story is a resurrection or Parousia story. This story in the gospel attempts to help the disciples come to an understanding of the difficult moments of Jesus ministry, his arrest, and death. And his death leads to the victory of Easter Christians have called this event the “transfiguration” of Jesus. Transfiguration means to change forms or transform, but it is a transformation into something more beautiful or spiritually elevated.  So Jesus’ face changes, and his clothes are transformed dazzlingly white. This event occurs on a mountain top, usually, a place of encounter with God.

These are other indications of a resurrection appearance. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the mountain top, and they converse with Jesus about his death. These two figures, Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet, are religious prophets in past history. Climbing up a mountain is significant to Jews of Jesus’ time. Mountains are places where God is met. Think of Moses on Mt. Sinai where he receives the covenantal law.  Elijah is taken to heaven by a fiery chariot in a whirlwind.

There was a common belief that these two prominent figures from the Hebrew Bible would return to earth at the end of the messianic period. Todays’ gospel story is thick with biblical allusions and symbols. Moses and the exodus are part of Jewish history of liberation from slavery in Egypt.  Here is a comparison to the death of Jesus as the new exodus, a liberation from oppression and the bonds of death to resurrection.  Elijah is a prophetic hero from the past, and at the end of his life, he is transferred by a fiery chariot in a whirlwind or tornado into heaven.

When Peter is mentioned in the gospels, you know to expect something will go wrong. He is well-intentioned but brash and does not often think through what Jesus says or does. Peter wants to do something to capture the moment, to make it possible to stay there in this light, in this understanding, in this encounter with God. He was wants to build three shrines or tents to honor the three religious figures.  His babbling indicates how uncomfortable was he at what was taking place.

A radiant white cloud covered Jesus and, Moses, and Elijah, and the three, and a voice rendered Peter silent, proclaim Jesus as the beloved child and said to them, “listen to him!”  They fell to the ground in terror. Jesus touched them, told them to get up and not to be afraid.

Like Peter, silence often makes us uncomfortable, but if we are not silent, how will we ever hear the voice of God? Can we be simply still ourselves and be silent in the face of the wonder of that surrounds us?  How can we listen if we are babbling like Peter, how can we really hear if we are not first silent?  If we are not still enough to take in what is being offered to us?

 

God reminds the disciples to commune or listen with nature. God says, “Be open. Receive. Don’t share yet. Don’t freeze this moment. But be aware. Enjoy the moment. Keep your eyes on Christ. And receive.”

 

This practice of stopping and listening is difficult, for it takes practice for those who are not used to being receivers, but it can be done when you relax the business of your mind and remain receptive.

300 million Orthodox Christians read this story of the transfiguration of Jesus as very important to the practice of their spirituality. They turn to the Earth as a location to encounter the Incarnate Christ transformed into the comos. They understand nature has the potential to become sacramental or transfigured and how God becomes present in nature from this story.  Nature is generally empty, but it is also sacramental. Orthodox Christian spirituality has much to offer our own on encountering the natural world.

The heart of Orthodox Christian spirituality consists of the vision and the experience of the world as sacrament. This means that the world becomes a place for the transfigured presence of the risen Christ. To know and accept the sacramentality of the world in a truly effective way for encountering God yet, that experience transforms the way we feel and act toward creation and God present within it. All encounters with trees, rivers, oceans, deserts, and mountains can become “transfigured.”  What they mean by “transfigured” it to be transformed into something beautiful, or in this case, something wonderfully magnificent and divine, God.

Nature is an icon. For Orthodox Christians, an icon is pictorial representation of sacred—God, Christ, and Spirit–or saints or event from the scriptures. They are not just for beautiful decoration of a church. Icons teach us as we see and contemplate them. They remind us what we are and what we should be. They show us the importance of matter and of material things. But they also show us the transfiguration of matter under the power of the Holy Spirit.

Some have called icons a window into the sacred.  When you gaze at the icon, you see something beyond the representation. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, you bring the silence of James and John in today’s gospel story. It is the proper response at what you are really gazing. The icon calms the mind, it brings an inner stillness as a wakefulness or deep look at the heart of the icon to listen and see God.  We experience that presence within the icon.

Today’s gospel about the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain top is an important lesson for training us to not only appreciation and experience transformation from engaging icons.  The Orthodox Christians also understand nature as an icon of God’s presence. If we take the attitude of James and John’s silence, not Peter’s response, we come to nature with silence and awe. We come to an experiential realization of the presence in all created things.

Humanity has de-sacralize nature, taken the sacredness out of nature. And we commit ecological atrocities to the Earth and sin against God. Today’s gospel and the ancient practices of silent meditation and prayer in the Orthodox churches point to an openness to meet nature as the site of the holy.  When they speak of nature as containing sacred presence, it is just like realizing that our blessing and consecration of the bread and grape juice at worship on Sunday. They become windows or icons into the sacred.  The sacramentally charged nature of creation defies all sacrileges on our part, reminding us at all times that the world embodies the divine, the triune God. Ordinary nature can be transformed and revealed the transfigured Christ.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Churches Bartholomew has been called “Green Patriarch” by the Orthodox churches.  For the last 25 years and well before we heard about “climate change,” he has carried on a campaign to sensitize Christians to the issues of human harm and degradation of the Earth.

It follows that to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation, for humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands, for humans to injure moral ground, other humans with disease, for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life with poisonous substances—these are sins.(Bartholonew I)

He names pollution, destruction of forests, contamination of waters and streams, releasing toxic carcinogens and other toxins into our atmosphere,  change of climate and the extinction of species, these are sin.  It is sin against God’s creation and God’s body.

The Ecumenical Patriarch has tirelessly convened symposia around the world, including one in Santa Barbara, on degradation of global bioregions at most risk.  He launched September 1st as Creation Day to pray for the healing of God’s creation. That starts the ecumenical practice of the Season of Creation, which we as a church observe for four weeks, ending with the blessings of our companion animals. Like Pope Franics, he has been a vocal champion around the world for Earth protection and Earthcare.

The Earth and all its life forms and processes are not just objects to be exploited but a vast sacrament revealing God’s presence as Christ was revealed on the mountain and God spoke through a cloud over the risen Christ.  The sacramental principle is the understanding that world around can break open, become transfigured, and reveal the radiant presence of Christ. In other words, nature becomes an icon of the sacred, the place we can encounter the risen Christ. Mountains, clouds, water, gardens, lakes and rivers, the wilderness can become spiritual windows to envision Christ.

Where are our icons?  I first look to the gospel. The stories point to nature where Jesus experienced an intimacy of Abba God. The gospel becomes a visualized icon to experience the risen Christ.

Nature and God’s incarnation in Jesus are intertwined. Jesus is born in a cave. His parables are full of natural images: the good shepherd, the vine, the mustard seed, planting seeds, and so. Jesus experienced Abba God under the night stars in the countryside, in the olive groves, at the Jordan river, the wilderness,

Jesus is experienced on the mountain top, but the cloud becomes a manifestation of Abba God who declares that Jesus is the beloved child.  And there is Jesus’ baptism in Jordan.  Or in the wilderness. Jesus found God at night under the stars in countryside. Or in the gardens: the garden of Gethsemane and the resurrection garden where Jesus was buried.

You can nurture an opening of your mind which acts like a portal of connection with them and they will use this portal to commune with you. Sometimes this connection can happen quickly, surprisingly so, and some will need some time. A type of trust is needed to develop, not with the tree or whatever your source, but you must trust in your mind to become relaxed and vibrantly receptive.

The natural world becomes a window to experience the transfigured Christ in the world.  The natural world is a window to find manifestations of the presence of God.  When I speak of God is green, it means that the face of Christ is found in all living things.

This Lent make it a practice to visit our church garden. Find a plant that captures your attention.  It may be the shape or color or something personal.  Note the shape and color of the main body of the plant. If the plant has blossom, relish and enjoy the richness of the color. Try to develop a relationship with the plant, and give it a one word description. Focus on the word and the plant. Express your gratitude for this plant.

Try to be still to appreciate the plant. Be still and listen to the plant. Plants have a different language than ourselves. Listen to the plant, try to envision that this plant is God’s creation, it Remember when God look at the plants, God said it was good. This plant is precious and valuable to God.  Remember how Jesus was transfigured on the mountain top; the risen Jesus is here today. In the plant and in you, and in your interrelating, there is the risen Christ. Honor the Christ in you and in the plant. Recognize that this is sacred moment together. Before you leave for reflection, repeat your holy word.  By bookmakring it, the next time you visit the plant, use the word and it will transport into the experience where you left off. Thank God for this time with a beloved creation of God.

What might happen this Lent? Here is a description of Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas give us a clue.

I also began to connect with nature.  I began to see that God loved not only my body, but also the whole ‘body” of creation. My prayer began to change. It was like turning my pocket inside out; whereas once I found God merely in the silent inward contemplation, now God began showing up around me—in the pond, the rocks, the willow tree. If you spend an hour gazing at a willow tree, after a while it begins to disclose God. 

 

 

Blessing Our Companion Animals. Who is Blessed? (in honor of the blessing of Animals on the Feast of St. Franics of Assisi.

St. Francis of Assisi is not only honored by Catholics but also by Christians of many denominations as well as many non-Christians. We honor him and we remember animal life. The great historian Arnold Toynbee called Francis “the greatest of all men who ever lived in the West.” He goes on, “The example given by St. Francis is what we Westerners ought to be imitated with all our heart, for he is the only Westerner who can save the earth.” I believe that there is a lot of truth in Toynbee’s last claim. St. Francis inspires many folks who care deeply about the environment and love their companion animals.

Today we remember the great saint of ecology and model of living with nature and God’s creatures as siblings. I like the description made by some environmentalist who use “human and non-human animals.” It stresses that we human are animal as well and removes the attitude that humanity is above animals, The two Genesis creation accounts make the point we human are siblings to other life. On the sixth day, human and non-human animals were created. Or in Genesis 2, God forms adamah, the earth creature, and animals from the stuff of earth. St. Francis stressed human and other life were siblings.

We bless our companion animals, recognizing how our family members are blessings for us and are part of our household. Our companion animals are not poster children for environmental concerns, but they begin the process of helping how important are animals to the Earth community. All have intrinsic value to God the Creator.

There is no question that Francis never fit into his time; he was considered crazy, perhaps better described as a “holy fool,” during his lifetime. He did not fit in the early 13th century. I am sure that Francis would not fit well in our time as well. But he certainly presents a model for all of us to consider.

I want to focus on Francis of Assisi and his kinship relationship with other life, for this is why we bless our companions today. Blessing honors our relationships within our household companions and blesses our households. In my blessing, I pray for the companions who live together and mutually relate.
Francis’ Canticle of Creatures was written in the final year of his life. One

Franciscan writer Ilia Delia affirms,

(the Canticle) is the way the universe looks after ego has disappeared. It is a vision of the whole that sees the self as part of the whole in the unity of love. The way to this vision for Francis was compassion. His life was an ever-widening space in union with the divine, a space between God and Francis that included the leper, the sick brother, the sun, moon, and the stars. …He felt the tender love of God shining through creation.

When he saw the weakness of another creature, whether it was a human or non-human, he saw Christ’s passion re-enacted and saw Christ in the suffering. To be compassionate is to be related to others and view ourselves as a mirror of the others and Christ.

But what about non-human animals show compassion? The non-human animal does not itself reflected on the other; but non-human animals intuit that a human or non-human animal is in need and is kin, part of the pack. I want to share a wonderful story why it is important to develop a kinship relationship with our companion animals.

I ask the pardon to cat folks, but I am a dog person and will focus on dog stories. But I welcome you sending me or sharing with me your cat stories. So next time I can balance off today’s sermon.

The first story is the called the “Dogs of Egypt:” I took this story from Dr. Ken Stone, a Hebrew Bible scholar in an article in Divanimality. . He tells the following story.

Emmanuel Levinas, the Jewish French philosopher, was drafted into the French Army to fight against the Germans during World War II. His unit was captured by the Germans, and he spent confinement in a military prison camp and assigned to the Jewish barracks. Levinas narrates a story of his time in the prison about a dog named “Bobby.”

One day he came to meet this rabble as we returned under guard from work….We called him Bobby, an exotic name, as one does with a cherished dog. He would appear at morning assembly and was waiting for us as we returned, jumping up and down and barking in delight. For him there was no doubt that we were men.

The philosopher makes a clear distinction between Bobby the dog and the Nazi guards in the concentration camp. The Nazi guards treated their Jewish prisoners as animals. They dehumanized them. Levinas observes, “We were subhuman, a gang of apes.”

Bobby recognized these prisoners as human, part of the pack, and greeted them with joy and unconditional love as dogs are wont to do when you leave and return. Again Levinas points out, “For him (Bobby) there was no doubt that we were men.” He reminisces,

He (Bobby) was a descendant of the dogs of Egypt. And his friendly growling, his animal faith, was born of his forefathers on the banks of the Nile.
Levinas reminisces that Bobby was like the dogs of Egypt in Exodus, where Moses speaks about the last plague, the death of the first born, that the dogs do not bark. They silently recognized the humanity of the Hebrew slaves in Exodus.

Biblical scholar Ken Stone observes,

By holding their tongues, the dogs mark the liberation of Israelite slaves. And here, Levinas observes we see what it means to say that the dogs are friends of humanity, for…. “the dog will attest to dignity of its person.”

Levinas speaks of “animal faith” and “friendly growling” of Bobby. Bobby recognizes the humanity of the prisoners. Levinas associates dogs in the scriptures with human freedom and the dog Bobby with humanity. That is a wonderful story of how dogs humanize us.

St. Francis knew that loving animals provide human animals with an expansion of relationships. “Animals” then and often now are perceived less than humanity. In history of Christianity, most Christians have viewed dogs and animals as inferior to humanity and having no soul.

Humans are thoroughly relational, and we realize that we are human through other human beings and companion or non-human animals. I have had five dogs in my life since 1978, and I have been with four of them as they were euthanized, several weeks with Joe and his dog Harley. It was emotionally hard to lose a household companion, Harley. I cling to a statement of Pope Francis to a young boy whose dog died: “One day we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.” Pope Francis’ words, I believe, speak to a truth that St. Francis could have easily uttered, and I have always believed since my first sacred event of saying good bye to a good friend.

I have heard folks say that they would never have another dog after they experienced the death of dog and the pain of grief and loss. But despite the grief of loss, an non-human animal theologian Stephen Webb claims:

Like forgiveness, animals are a gift; they come to us with their own beauty and dignity, and they plead for patience and understanding. In turn, they give us more than we could otherwise have known about ourselves by allowing us to venture into a relationship that goes further, due to its very awkwardness and limitations, than the boundaries of human language normally permits, “The fact that animals are so generous in answering us is what makes it okay to train them but a human duty one way we enact our gratitude to the universe that animals exist.” (Webb)

I want to add the training is mutual. My dog Friskie trains me as I train him. There is a reciprocal giving and sharing. He responds to people speaking to hm. He communicates with myself by gazing into my eyes, or sitting not to me, jumping in my lap grabbing my hand to herd me, communicating “let’s go to church” or later “let’s go to the dog park.”

Companion animals bring joy but expect a return, care, attention, and love. They show us love and will extend that love to others. One day I was in the church social hall talking to a couple, one of which was disfigured from cancer, and he had a hard time speaking. Friskie immediately jumped into his lap and started to lick his face and gave him unconditional love. His canine intuition was correct about the need for love in this situation. I know that many dogs as they get to know you they love you naturally and unconditionally. When I think of how dogs have been introduced into nursing homes for the chronically ill, they have a therapeutic presence by being themselves. The introduction of dogs has produced remarkable successes in alleviating loneliness and help healing. One program that promotes and use dog therapy writes:

Therapy Dog volunteers and their dogs have contributed significantly over the years in bringing warmth and joy to residents of nursing homes. Residents learn, in the company of dogs, to overcome loneliness and fear. The residents are delightfully entertained by the dog’s tricks and antics and warmed beyond words by their unconditional love and acceptance.

They connect physically with touch and emotionally with the residences of nursing homes, and they provide touch so vital to all of us as human beings.
Stephen Webb makes the insight:

The interconnections among God, humans, and dogs are rich. Both God and dogs love unconditionally, both God and humans are masters in their own realms, and both dogs and humans are creatures and servants. Humans are in between, both masters and servants, loved by God and dogs alike.

Dogs are remarkable companions if we take the time to listen and learn from our dogs, and they will communicate with us in many different ways if we engage them.

Both relationships– God to us and dogs to us—are places we experience unconditional love. When we come back to either, there is a joyful hospitality of welcoming.

Finally, there is a Native American legend that when you die, you cross a bridge into heaven. At the head of the bridge, the soul of the human meets every non-human animal that they have met during their lifetime. The non-human animals, based on what they experience of this person, decide who may cross the bridge and who will be turned away. Companion or non-human animals have an uncanny ability to judge character.

In her book, Certain Poor Shepherds, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas tells the story of a goat and dog who are companions on a journey to Bethlehem on the first Christmas day. They are searching for an animal redeemer, not human. Thomas writes, “No redeemer appeared for the animals; however none was needed. The animals were much the same as they are now, just as God had made them, perfect to God’s plan.”

That is why we not only bless our companion animals but they bless us. We could not be fully human without them. And that is why take the time to remember St. Francis who reminds us that animals our siblings.

Let us pray: I want to share a prayer sent to me from Kathleen:

O God, you are a playful puppy; I’ll never be lonely. You knock me over in your desire to have fun. You return eagerly no matter how I behave. You calm my spirit. You remind me to keep things in perspective because the only thing that matters to you is love. Even though life can threaten to crash in on me I will not be overcome; your bark and soft fur soothe me . You bring me to the park to play in the middle of the work week. You lick my face and my hands. We never get tired . Together we’ll keep playing as long as we live. And the sun will shine always. (Erik Walker Wikstrom)

Sky Sunday: Season of Creation (Mt.16:2-3

This sermon is by Rev. Joe Shore-Goss, my husband.

This is the air I breathe

Welcome, Sulfur Dioxide

This is the air I breathe

Hello, Carbon Monoxide

Your Holy presence

The air, the air

Living in me is everywhere.

This is my daily bread

Breathe Deep

This is my daily Bread

While I sleep

Your very word

Breathe deep

Is spoken to me.

And I am desperate for you,

And I am lost without you.

This is the air I breathe

Bless you, alcohol blood stream

This is the air I breathe

Save me nicotine lung steam

Your Holy Presence

Incense, Incense

Living in me, is in the air

 

This is my daily bread

Breathe Deep

This is my daily Bread

While I sleep

Your very word

Breathe deep

Is spoken to me.

And I’m cataclysmic ectoplasm

And I’m fallout atomic orgasm

Desperate for you

And I’m vapor and fume

I’m lost at the stone of my tomb without you

 

And I breathing like a sullen perfume

Desperate for you

Eating at the stone of my tomb

I’m lost without you,

Looking rather attractive

I’m lost without you,

Now that I’m radio active

I’m desperate for you,

Just watch me spark

Cry out to live

I glow in the dark

I am desperate for you

Breathe deep

I’m lost

While I sleep

I’m Lost

Breathe deep

I’m lost without you
h up of this is the air I breathe by Michael W. Smith and Air from Hair by James Rado, Gerome Ragni. It is actually the first thing I thought of when I knew I had sky Sunday. The imagery that these two images bring about can be, and I hope it was, disturbing.

When I used to drive into Los Angeles from Palm Springs it would strike me as I came over the one hill and looking into the basin of Los Angeles there was a yellow/brownish haze just hanging over the city. The air is everywhere and this is the air we breathe.

The original Gospel assigned for today speaks of the sky turning dark for 3 hours as Christ hung on the cross. I choose instead the reading where Christ actually says red sky at night sailors delight red sky in morning sailors take warning…well more or less.

The other readings one is from Jeremiah and it says;
Jeremiah 4:23-28 Common English Bible (CEB)

23 I looked at the earth,
And it was without shape or form;
At the heavens
And there was no light.
24 I looked at the mountains
And they were quaking;
All the hills were rocking back and forth.
25 I looked and there was no one left;
Every bird in the sky had taken flight.
26 I looked and the fertile land was a desert;
All its towns were in ruins
Before the Lord,
Before his fury.
27 The Lord proclaims:
The whole earth will become a desolation,
But I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore, the earth will grieve
And the heavens grow dark

And still a 3rd reading form the psalms says;
Psalm 19
For the music leader. A psalm of David.

19 Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
The sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
2 One day gushes the news to the next,
And one night informs another what needs to be known.
3 Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
Their voices can’t be heard—
4 but their sound[a] extends throughout the world;
Their words reach the ends of the earth.
God has made a tent in heaven for the sun.
5 The sun is like a groom
Coming out of his honeymoon suite;
Like a warrior, it thrills at running its course.
6 It rises in one end of the sky;
Its circuit is complete at the other.
Nothing escapes its heat.

There is a theme here which is the voice of creation, or more specifically the way which the sky not only announces and celebrates God’s presence, but also sympathizes with Creation when it suffers.

Have you ever watched the skies when a storm was brewing, black clouds rolling? In like wall after wall of waves? Have you ever had a sense of God’s presence in?

The storm or God’s voice in the thunder as many ancient peoples did? (Note
Psalm 29!) Have you ever sensed that eerie feeling that comes during an eclipse? When all the animals are spooked?

Why is the sky so important to us? Our moods seem to change with the weather—When the sun shines we are likely to be happier than when darkness covers the sky. Why? What does the sky mean to us? Is our faith influenced by the sky or related to The sky in some way?

It is interesting to note that in general when the Old Testament refers to heavens the original Hebrew could be translated as sky or skies, and really that often works better, for me anyway for then the air around us, above us and beyond us. All of this space is where God dwells. God is living, according to the Old Testament, here between us.

We take God in…This is the air I breathe. We exhale God…This is the air I breathe. We harm and foul God with pollutants form cigarette smoke to exhaust from Coal mines and power plants. We made the Earth a member of our congregation and yet we walk in God daily.

In Jeremiahs vision he sees an enemy about to destroy all that God has created. As a matter of fact the season of creation author describes it this way;
“The Disaster he sees coming is so destructive he depicts the event as if it were a reversal of the original acts of creation. To understand this vision we need to return to the events of Genesis One.

Consider the following:
Compare v. 23 with Gen. 1.1: Return to pre-creation – all is ‘waste and void’
Compare v. 23 with Day One: No light in the sky
Compare v. 25 with Day Five: No birds in the sky
Compare v. 26 with Day Three: No vegetation comes from the land/Earth
Jeremiah’s vision turns the whole of the original creation process upside down. This Portrait, moreover, is more than a metaphor.”

If we look around us we can see this destruction happening around us every day. Fires are wiping out acres of vegetation. Drought is devastating our state. In other parts floods and mudslides are wiping out villages where glaciers are disappearing, and ocean tides are rising. Jeremiah ends his vision by predicting the earth will mourn the sky will turn black.

I have seen the sky turn black and the sun disappear due to the big fires in Oakland. I have seen the sky turn from a haze to a dark orange to fill with soot due to nearby fires. Jeremiah has laments where he speaks further of the earth mourning and the land crying aloud to God. I believe in many cases this is happening today. The land is crying out and some are listening.

The author of the Seasons of creation sky Sunday bible study tells us; “We have created a hole in the ozone layer. By excessive use of various sprays and chemicals we have released chlorofluorocarbon molecules into the atmosphere. In the stratosphere chlorine atoms escape from these molecules and attack the ozone molecules. The resulting ‘hole’ first appeared over the South Pole, but the ozone layer is thinning over other continents. Because of this thinning, UV rays from the sun have now increased and so have skin cancer rates. (though , due to changes we have made,, in a study released this summer if we stay the path the ozone may heal by 2070)

There are many ways in which we have polluted our skies. The combustion of fossil fuels in factories and cars produces a host of noxious materials that fill our skies. One of the common effects is smog. Air pollution is no longer a crisis we can avoid.”

I must say we are getting better but our dependency on fossil fuels is still way too high. We are still in the very early stages of switching from more hybrid and fuel cell cars but I believe we are getting there. We, as you know, have most of our electricity generated from the sun.

People have shrugged at solar energy claiming it is a flash in the pan or not viable. But I still wonder what would happen if we required every new structure to have solar panels, or at least every government building. “In full sun, you can safely assume about 100 watts of solar energy per square foot. If you assume 12 hours of sun per day, this equates to 438,000 watt-hours per square foot per year. Based on 27,878,400 square feet per square mile, sunlight bestows a whopping 12.2 trillion watt-hours per square mile per year.” We have yet to begin to access all the energy around us.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is someone will lose money. Someone else will make money. The energy companies, the way many stand, are losing money as solar becomes more popular. The gas companies are losing money as responsible organizations and people are divesting form them. They try to block advances that will better our environment at every turn. It really is a shame. Yet, in spite of all that, the LAPD announced today they have just bought 137 electric cars!
Finally the author I have been sharing with you form seasons of creation goes on to remind us Many of us have been conditioned to think that only humans communicate the mysteries of God. We do not expect other parts of creation to have a voice like that of humans. Butterflies do not talk. Trees do not sing the way we do. Skies do not communicate.

Psalm 19 indicates just the opposite. Many Psalms, like Ps. 148, celebrate the way trees sing, fields rejoice and the rest of creation praises God. This Psalmist invites all creation—including sea monsters and storms—to praise the Creator!

Sometimes we think this kind of talk is but poetic language, giving human voice to non-human reality. Psalm 19 suggests that the voice of creation is more than a poetic way of praising God. All creation is here communicating about—and with—the Creator.

In this Psalm the sky proclaims good news in its own way, not a human way. The sky is the mediator of God’s word. The sky announces two things—the vibrant presence of God and the creative work of God.

Unfortunately over the city of angels the sky often mourns and warns of the troubled air. The sky becomes distressful for those with conditions and young people on certain days as the particle count is just unsafe. We must listen to God in heaven, God around us, God in us, between us and remember. This is the air I breathe. This is the air we breathe. Amen.

Third Rock from the Sun: A Living Gift (Genesis 1:1-28)

I start this four week Season of Creation when as we explore themes on God’s Creation. We insert this into our church calendar of ordinary time and will end on Sunday October 4th with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the blessing of animals. Today we will celebrate the Planet Earth.

James Lovelock, a NASA scientist, proposed the Gaia hypothesis, a compelling new way of understanding the Earth. It argues that we are far more than just the “Third Rock from the Sun,” situated precariously between freezing and burning up. His theory asserts that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings have evolved together as a single living system that greatly affects the chemistry and conditions of Earth’s surface. Lovelock proposes that living and non-living parts of the Earth form an interacting and complex system and that the Earth could be considered as single whole organism. He takes the name for Earth from the Greek goddess of the Earth, Gaia.

Earth’s living system appears to keep conditions on our planet just right for life to persist! Many other scientists are skeptical of Lovelock’s Gaia theory and dismiss it as religion, but many environmentalists take the Gaia hypothesis seriously, for his model appears ecologically sound because he sees that every Earth process and life are intimately interconnected. Over the years, Lovelock has written a number of books, making conflicting claims on the rates of climate change.

For Lovelock, Gaia, the Earth, is a single living system. Earth is alive in some sense, and we are part of the Earth. Ecologists favor Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis because it has the individual interrelated with larger bio-systems and, in turn, related to even greater biosphere, the Earth. The Gaia theory provides a metaphorical model or a deeper ecological understanding what is happening to the Earth from the perspective of biodiversity and bio-systems. There is an interaction between inanimate processes with animate aspects of nature. And they are mutually interdependent producing a stable climate and environment for life to flourish.

The Earth is viewed as life-forming and life-sustaining system, and humanity is dependent upon this complex system of processes and animate life. What is meant by inanimate process is such elements as weather systems of the Earth, the ocean currents, the atmosphere, soil, water, mountains, and sky.

Some evangelical Christians are uncomfortable with the Gaia hypothesis and quickly charge it as form of “scientific paganism.” That indicates how far some Christians are scared of environmentalists. They are pagans, worshiping the Earth as a god. But the sad fact is that these Christians have created an apartheid with nature and the Earth. And this is a major deficit in their spirituality when an incarnate God directs our attention to what God loves. I often wonder how these Christians can so often quote John 3:16: For God so loved the world that “God sent God’s only begotten child…” God loves and values all creatures, human and other life, and the Earth herself.

Just because we envision the Earth as a living entity, we do not comprehend the Earth as divine. It mediates God’s presence, and we can discover God within nature. The Earth, all of its processes, and bio-diversity can be sacramental means for connecting to God. I have claimed consistently that God incarnates Godself in human flesh, and that means God is communicated in and through the planet Earth. The words from the Book of Job ring so true me,

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, the birds of the air, and they will tell you, ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea, will declare to you. (Job 12:7-8)

We experience God in and through all of nature and the Earth.
Whether the Gaia theory is hypothesis, science, or metaphor, it gives us, nonetheless, a model to comprehend the processes of the Earth and how they impact our environment, ourselves, and other life. It points out that there is one Earth in which all life originates from her processes and in which all life is interdependent. All life, including ourselves, is interconnected with each other and the planet Earth. Earth is our home and mother.

A second point, the Gaia theory insists that they we belong to a larger whole. It becomes clear that our lives are dependent upon what we do to the Earth. The poet and former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel writes,

What could change the direction today’s civilization? It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in spirit, in the sphere of human conscience.… We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behavior and a new set of values for the planet.

Havel calls for a fundamental shift in our relationship, it is a conversion from the way we view and relate to Earth and other life.

Rachel Carson, one of my heroines–a great ecologist and fighter for the environment and life– described the ancient world of the Eastern Atlantic shore as “the intricate fabric of life by which one creature is linked with another, and ach with its surroundings.” Carson witnessed such a marvelous vision of the interconnections lie within the Earth. She was a great spiritual prophet. Listen to her words: “But I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the world around us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Spirituality begins in wonder as we become attentive to the complex processes of the Earth: the winds, weather, mountains and trees, the oceans, so much more. The gift of the Earth is also the gift of God. Some Christian ecologists consider the Earth as “God’s House.” We are living in God’s House.

But humanity is trashing God’s House. Some ecologists are saying, because of our reckless behaviors to the Earth, we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. 30% of other life species may become extinct by 2050. They point to the human assault on the Earth and other life, and they point to HIPPO, anagram for: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, over Population, Overconsumption of resources. (Dyck and Ehrman) We recklessly pursue these actions without much restraint of government regulation.

When humanity separates itself from nature spiritually, we lose our capacity for wonder and being part of a larger biotic community. Our connection to the Earth expands our spiritual awareness of our connectedness to the community of life; it fosters listening, interrelatedness, and compassion. When we lose our sense of interrelatedness with nature and life, we make ourselves lords of the Earth. We harm the Earth without compassion and care for God’s creation. The prophet Jeremiah describes what happens when we separate ourselves from the Earth:

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void, and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled, I looked, and lo, the fruitful

land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins (Jer. 4:23-26)
This seems to be a prophetic warning of coming devastation of climate change, perhaps the sixth massive extinction.

The Gaia theory is not dissimilar to what we have done to comprehend the Earth as a whole, a living organism, and we made the living Earth, a member of our congregation. Why make the Earth a member of the Valley Church? It keeps our awareness how we are part of the web of life of the Earth. It encourages to live differently with the Earth. We see the Earth as intimately interwoven in our lives and our church. We cannot love God if we ignore our neighbor and fellow congregant the Earth. We owe the same care and pastoral attentiveness to a congregant who is suffering, oppressed, and vulnerable.

Here is a description by the by the African American pastor and human rights activist in the 20th century—Howard Thurman,

The earth beneath my feet is the great womb of which the life upon which my body depends comes in utter abundance. There is at work in the soil a mystery by which the death of one seed is reborn a thousand fold in newness in life… (It) is order, and more than order—there is brooding tenderness out of which all comes. In the contemplation of the earth I am surrounded by the love of God.

For Thurman, Earth is place we discover God’s tenderness and love as we connect t the earthiness of bodies and become re-connected to the Earth. Let me remind you that in Genesis, the poet writes “Then YHWH formed an earth creature from clods of the soil and breathed into its nostrils the breadth of the life, and the earthling became a living being.” We are metaphorically born from the Earth, and there is as Thurman so beautifully describes as a “brooding tenderness” from all life comes. As we contemplate the Earth, we are “surrounded by the love of God.”
The Earth is full of creatures, and it is important to remind ourselves that other life forms are our siblings. As I said earlier, we cannot claim to love God and ignore God’s Earth. As humans we do not own the resources of the Earth, we ideally share them responsibly and sustainably.

There is an image that I like described by Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. Let me read part of his Advent meditation:

Each human being is a homo viator, a walker through the paths of life. As Argentinean Native poet and singer Atahualpa Yupanqui says: “the human being is the Earth who walks.” We do not receive our existence ready-made. We must build it. And to that end, we must open the path, starting with and going beyond the paths that preceded ours, and have already been walked. Even so, our personal path is never completely given. It must be built with creativity and without fear. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado says: “walker, there is no path; the path is made by walking.”

The poet Atahualpa Yupanqui describes us as the human being as the Earth walking. It connects to our origins as an earthling, from the soil of the Earth, and we are given life by God’s breadth of life. As the Earth walking, we have responsibilities to the Earth and the community of life.

Boff claims our real nature born from the earth as the Earth Walking enlarges our vision of the Earth and all life. It moves beyond our human tendency towards individualism, replacing it with a new vision that we live on the Earth interrelated and interrelated to a bio-diverse world and interrelated to God triune community of love. We recognize our survival and the survival of species are dependent on living responsibly and with ecological care for the entire world.
Boff’s description of us the Earth Walking recognizes that we humans are not own. We are so interconnected to Earth in our bodies and our interconnectedness to other life and the Earth. Nothing is alone, everything is part of interconnected community. Humanity apartheid from this interconnected community leads to violence, disrespect, and reckless polices of exploitation.
Through prayer we discover our compassion is rooted in the heart of God, and it becomes rooted simultaneously in meditating on the presence of God in the world. Where do we find the presence of God? It is within us and surrounds us: in our brothers and sisters and all other life, and even with the Earth. Prayer ultimately leads us to make connections with God and life. We realize that the mystery how much our incarnate God loves the Earth.
The famous astronomer Carl Sagan and Nobel Laureate in physics, Hans Bethe, wrote together to religious leaders in the 1990s:
As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand what is sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so treated. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a sense of the sacred.
Scientists felt the need to remind religious folks around the sacredness of the Earth and care and reverence for the universe. We had separated ourselves into an apartheid relationship with the Earth community.

Remember: “God so loved the Earth that God sent God’s only begotten Child…”

Eco-Theology Powerpoint

Educational resource in developing basic eco-theologies for Christian communities. It was part of training program for developing an Environmental Justice Team in congregations and in UCC Conferences.

Eco-theology Powerpoint

Eco-Actions: Resources for Building an Earth-centered Church